“On this Day of the African Child, we celebrate children as the future of Africa,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said Friday. “But we also recognize and address the considerable problems they face – from extreme poverty and conflict to malaria, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS.”
The Day of the African Child is celebrated on June 16, the day in 1976 when thousands of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot; and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.
“This landmark event was a demonstration of great courage and conviction by the children of South Africa, who stood up for what they believed,” Veneman said. “It is a powerful reminder of the decisive role that children can have in bringing about change and of the importance of ensuring a quality basic education for all.”
To honour the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity. The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child is violence against children, which threatens the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of children. Violence is a particularly pressing threat to the current and future well-being of Africa’s children because of the continent’s disproportionate burden of conflict, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Children in emergencies are at particular risk of gender-based violence given their limited ability to protect themselves and the disruption of family and community protection.
“It is hard to think of an act against girls and young women that can be more damaging or enduring than sexual violence,” Veneman said.
“Sexual violence is also a major factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS, which is having a devastating impact on children, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Rape is routinely used as a weapon of war, and the poverty that conflicts bring often leaves girls and young women destitute. For many of them, trading sex for survival becomes the only option.”
Women and children who flee their homes because of armed conflict become dramatically more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation – which in turn heighten their risk of HIV infection. In Darfur, for example, where nearly 2 million people have been displaced by conflict, it is estimated that at least one-third of the victims of rape are children.
And because of HIV/AIDS, Africa’s children are losing their best protection – their parents. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Supporting these children, as well as children living with HIV/AIDS, is one of the goals of Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS, a global campaign to limit the impact of HIV and AIDS on children and halt the spread of the disease.
The impact of violence on children in Africa, and throughout the world, will be examined in the upcoming Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children. The global study, to be released in October, looks at violence in five settings: the home and family; schools; other institutional settings; the community and on the streets; and work situations. It will make recommendations for preventing and responding to violence against children.
Veneman said that violence against children in Africa, as elsewhere, not only undermines children’s health, self-confidence and ability to learn, but also holds back global development.
“If children are not protected from abuse, progress toward the Millennium Development Goals will be undermined,” Veneman said. “Poverty, illiteracy, early mortality and other challenges facing children are exacerbated by abuse.”
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For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations
Coming in October 2006: New Global Report on Violence against Children
Every day, violence invades the lives of millions of children. Yet, violence against children remains a largely hidden phenomenon. The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, to be published in October 2006, is a groundbreaking effort to detail the nature and scale of violence against children globally. Using the latest research, the study looks at violence in five settings: the home and family; schools and educational settings; other institutional settings (such as orphanages); the community and on the streets; work situations. Led by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, former Secretary of State for Human Rights of Brazil, the study is being developed in close consultation with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Day of the African Child
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